The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo government said, Tuesday, it had cut the country’s internet and SMS services to avert a “popular uprising” after “fictitious results” of the presidential election which took place at the weekend started circulating on social media. The government had also blocked the signal to Radio France Internationale (RFI), one of the most trusted news sources in DRC.
President Joseph Kabila’s diplomatic adviser, Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi told Reuters that the connections would remain cut until the electoral body publishes preliminary results on 6 January.
According to him, if the government allowed fictitious results to spread, it “could lead us straight toward chaos”.
“There are people who have indoctrinated the public with false numbers about this election. This has laid the groundwork for a popular uprising,” he also told AFP.
The government’s move has increased fears of electoral fraud in DRC where both the opposition and ruling coalition have claimed victory in the elections, the third since 2002. The current situation — logistics problem, insecurity and an outbreak of Ebola — which has left millions unable to vote, cast a shadow on hopes by some observers that the election might bring a measure of political stability to DRC.
The poll which was already delayed by two years, was postponed by a further week to allow more time to overcome logistical challenges in the country.
President Kabila’s second electoral mandate expired in 2016 but he wanted to stay on and only reluctantly called new elections under pressure from regional powers. Although the constitution stopped him from running for office again, critics say he plans to retain his influence by ensuring his handpicked candidate, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary wins.
According to Olivier Kamitatu, a spokesperson for opposition candidates, the media crackdown is part of a “plan to obscure the truth of the ballot box”.
Several western powers have weighed in. A statement supported by the UK and France, the EU and the US called on the government of DRC to restore the internet and to allow the country’s two main election monitors – the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO) and Symocel, an alliance of citizens’ observer missions – access to the count.